There follow the minutes of our July meeting, including a discussion on fighting austerity after Brexit. Our next monthly meeting will be held on Wednesday 3 August at 7.30 p.m., at the wheelchair-accessible River Lane Centre, River Lane, Cambridge CB5 8HP.
Cambridge People's Assembly, 6 July 2016
- Agreement of the agenda
- Apologies for absence
- Approval of last month's minutes and matters arising
- Secretary's report
- Treasurer's report
- Notice of a United Nations report on rights in Britain under austerity
- No More Austerity, No to Racism, Tories Must Go: joint national demonstration, 16 July
- Campaign against the new library charge
- Proposed statements in solidarity with Corbyn's Labour
- Improving our stalls
- Other business and announcements
- Next meeting
The venue was the River Lane Centre, at 7.30 p.m. Present were Bill, Emma (campaign chair), Hilary, Martin B., Neil (secretary), Nicki (treasurer), and Richard M. (meeting chair). Names may have been changed.
Two weeks earlier the referendum on Britain's European Union membership had produced a vote to leave. Richard noted that the chancellor, George Osborne, had afterwards abandoned the supposed object of his austerity measures, a budget surplus by 2020, and announced that he would cut corporation tax yet again: a giveaway Richard believed to amount to £14bn.
Hilary remarked that the elite would now dig their heels in to preserve the status quo. Neil was concerned that the referendum vote expressed, and would further encourage, the racism and xenophobia that had been stoked to create scapegoats for the effects of austerity cuts.
Bill had read George Monbiot's predictions that the vote to leave would shake up party politics: coalitions, alliances, and short-term agreements would be the way forward, and perhaps several parties would split. (Bill observed that they were all coalitions in the first place.) Personally he found this hopeful.
The meeting discussed the position of Jeremy Corbyn, the anti-austerity leader of the Labour Party who had been resisting an attempted coup since the referendum vote. Nicki passed round her copy of Richard Seymour's new book, Corbyn. Richard M. noted that the report of the Iraq Inquiry under Sir John Chilcot, published that day, should help Corbyn: he had opposed, as the present Labour rebels had typically supported, the military adventure finally discredited by the report.
The meeting accepted Neil's latest draft of the agenda.
Jenny, Maud, Mick, and Owen had sent their apologies.
The meeting approved the minutes.
Neil reported on the Convoy to Calais discussed at that meeting under item 6. Six vehicles from Cambridge, carrying 27 people and over £3,000 of aid, had joined a convoy of 250. However two days earlier the French authorities had decided not to allow the convoy to enter the country, citing the unrelated threats of terrorism and football violence. The convoy drove to Dover nevertheless but was indeed turned back. Its members protested at the port, then returned to London to protest outside the French Embassy.
Nicki noted that the junior doctors of the British Medical Association (BMA) had voted to reject the revised contract agreed in May by the government and the BMA's negotiators, as discussed at last month's meeting under item 3. The government would now impose the contract from October. Neil apologized that he and Owen had not found chance to prepare a statement giving the view of the Cambridge People's Assembly (CPA), as they had been asked to do by the last meeting. They had meant to urge a rejection of the contract, as the doctors had now chosen.
Neil reported 253 subscribers to the CPA's mailing list (the same number as last month), while 902 Twitter users followed it (886) and 599 Facebook users liked it (594).
Nicki reported a bank balance of £210.88 (she had now been able to pay in the collections at recent meetings). The collection at the June meeting had raised £17. The group had spent £5 on its monthly donation to the national People's Assembly, and owed £15 for the last two months' hire of its meeting venue.
Nicki noted the publication of the 'Concluding Observations on the Sixth Periodic Report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland' by the United Nations' Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, the first since austerity policies were begun in 2010. People had been waiting for this report, but it had been lost in the media after Brexit.
The report was highly critical, expressing concern for economic, social, and cultural rights in Britain under several heads including housing, poverty, social security, the right to food, working conditions (including those of migrant workers), unemployment, trade union rights, legal aid, and that of the austerity measures themselves. Neil added that the committee put special stress on its concerns under two of the heads above, those of austerity measures (where it was 'seriously concerned') and social security (it was 'deeply concerned').
Bill found the report a conventional analysis; Hilary protested that it had no teeth. Richard suggested that it was for the CPA and other campaigning groups to give the report teeth, by making use of it in their work.
Neil reported that this emergency demonstration had been jointly called by the People's Assembly and Stand Up to Racism after the vote to leave the EU. The Cambridge People's Assembly was now trying to organize a coach with Cambridge Stand Up to Racism (CSUTR). Richard R. from CSUTR had booked a vehicle, but despite enquiring with several companies he sadly had not been able to find a wheelchair-accessible vehicle at short notice; Neil had set up an Eventbrite page to handle passenger booking. A joint stall was planned for that Saturday, 9 July, on Parker's Piece (opposite the Big Weekend event).
Nicki was disappointed that the coach would not be accessible to wheelchair users. Neil apologized.
Bill urged the preparation of a press release.
Neil reported that the group had launched its campaign against the new library reservation charge with a petition, hosted on the People's Assembly website, and a letter to local newspapers which was published in the Cambridge News on 24 June (republished by the CPA as 'A Letter to the Cambridge News', 5 July) and in the Ely News the following week. However Friday 24 June was the day the referendum result was announced. Neil had planned to follow the petition with a set of requests under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act and an accompanying press release, but had judged that these would be lost in the necessary discussion of Brexit. He thought the time was right to resume the campaign.
The meeting agreed four FOI requests that Neil should draft for submission to the County Council.
The meeting considered alternative statements proposed by Neil and Owen in solidarity with the Labour Party under the anti-austerity leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, in response to the recent allegations of antisemitism in the party. Both texts criticized the cynical motives and timing of the publicity. Neil's text went on to say that 'these circumstances do not mean the allegations can be dismissed', and recognized the prominent cases as antisemitic, noting however the 'strong action' taken by the party in response. Owen's text rejected 'the suggestion that questioning the Zionist ideology of the Israeli state and its supporters ... entails antisemitic prejudice.'
After a long discussion, the meeting agreed to issue only the first half of Neil's text, which addressed the attempted coup then underway in Labour (see 'Solidarity with Corbyn's Labour Party', 7 July). It referred any statement addressing antisemitism to the next meeting.
As time was short, this item was referred to the next meeting.
Martin noted that Stand Up to Racism would hold its next regular meeting on 12 July at the Friends' Meeting House. Nicki noted that Hope Not Hate would hold a special meeting, about the racist backlash following the referendum vote, on 7 July at the Emmanuel United Reformed Church.
Richard noted that the local campaign to build council housing would hold a victory rally on 7 July.
Hilary noted that Cambridge Stop the War would hold a protest on 11 July at the visit of the former US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright.
Emma announced that she had to resign as campaign chair, because she was moving away from Cambridge to take a new job. The meeting congratulated and thanked her.
The next meeting would be held at 7.30 p.m. on Wednesday 3 August, at the same venue of the River Lane Centre.